“I am happy to see in the Minister of Finance’s Budget presentation the area of Youth Development and Entrepreneurship … the Minister speaks of an allocation of some 2.4 million dollars for Promoting Youth Micro-Enterprises also called PRYME.” Such formed part of Fredrick Stephenson’s opening salvo as he contributed to the Budget 2020 debates last Thursday.

As Minister of National Mobilization, Social Development, Family, Gender Affairs, Persons with Disabilities and Youth the onus was upon him to defend claims that his Ministry’s “noble” objectives were underfunded.

Minister Stephenson followed up his opening gambit with the declaration “I know many of the young people here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines would participate in these initiatives, bringing creative jobs to the young people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and I want to thank the Minister for that,” while he named the Skills for Youth Employment (SKYE) UKAID funded project as one beneficial intervention for Vincentian youth. He told Parliament that the programme was awarded some “nine million pounds to cater for 2000 young people in four of the Windward Islands.” The supposed, unidentified benefits inherent to this programme ought to accrue since the SKYE project is headquartered here, according to Stephenson who is also the South Windward MP.

“It is a good time to be young in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said as he reminded the House that the PRYME and SKYE programmes complement the Support for Education and Training (SET) and Youth Empowerment Service (YES) programmes.

The Minister then attempted to flip the script and pointed to a document he claimed to have copied from the New Democratic Party’s Facebook page titled ‘NDP’s 15 Point Plan for the Future: Our First Year’s To Do List.’

“Out of the 15 Point Plan for the Future and To Do List the only thing I see here – and they talking ‘bout nothing happening for youth in St. Vincent and the Grenadines – the only thing I see here for youth is number 14 ‘Provide 500 jobs in Information Technology and Communication Technology’,” Minister Stephenson told Parliament.

He began to list “three significant projects” that should lessen local unemployment levels. First on his list was the “four million dollar athletic track and football field at Diamond.” Stephenson told the House and media audiences alike that the facilities would “not only bring employment opportunities but will also be a place for sport for the youth of the nation and will also ensure that young people are gainfully employed and also that they can be the best they can be at the sporting discipline of their choice.”Minister Stephenson further recognized the inherent fiscal gains to be had from cultivating professionally trained athletes who are plying their trade globally.

Although the South Windward Member of Parliament failed to precisely disclose its intended location, he promised a multipurpose facility to be constructed in support of the Budget 2020 theme “accelerating economic transformation, building resilience, creating jobs and developing sustainability.” This facility would feature a “conference room and several other spaces for skills development and entrepreneurship,” the Minister said.

The Honourable Minister’s address then veered into the intricacies of air travel and the Argyle International Airport’s impact on travel to and from SVG. This, it seems, might have been in support of the mentioned tourism plants intended for his South Windward constituency.

On the issue of gender based violence Stephenson noted “this Minister, the Ministry and the government as a whole, we continue to condemn all forms of violence and stand committed as an agent of change to work in partnership with all institutions to eradicate all forms of violence in our nation… It therefore calls for all of us here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to seek to work together to stamp out the scourge of domestic violence from among our nation. An all hands on deck approach is what is needed.”

As to any actual steps to execute this eradication, Minister Stephenson committed “to engage a number of communities and families to ensure the programmes laid out by the Ministry are carried out in a manner which they should as we work together to bring an end to the scourge of violence in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

His Ministry, Stephenson also added, is charged with six key areas: policy development and administration, social protection, child development, gender development, youth development cooperative development.

Under the Ministry of National Mobilisation are “some 11 strategic priorities,” for this year, they include: “to assist in poverty reduction through social protection, to provide job opportunities resulting in reduced levels of unemployment, to empower our youth to meaningfully participate in and contribute to National Development, to assist in improving the living conditions of all sections of our population, to engender a greater sense of community and social responsibility, provide institutional support for victims of domestic violence and the revitalization of the National Youth Council,” according to the Minister.

Of his Ministry’s allotted XCD23.2 million (or 3% of the National XCD1.12B Budget) Stephenson said the objectives this year would be to “continue to coordinate the implementation of all the Ministries’ projects associated with social protection…, strengthen the monitoring capacity of the Ministry’s data collection systems, coordinate the legal policy and strategic activities of the Ministry, develop and implement – at the Ministry level – social action research framework to improve our strategic interventions and also to develop and implement the Ministry’s training plan for staff development and coordinate divisional client based training plans throughout the whole of 2020.”[sic]

The funds allocated would also go towards “review[ing] and coordinat[ing] the national commission on the rights of the child, youth and a gender policy by the middle of this year and to also establish social protection management committee by the middle of this year.”[sic]

The Child Justice Act was mentioned as one programme that would receive some undefined attention. A foster care policy and procedural manual is also to be developed by December 2020. “The foster care of our children are very important. And the Ministry will continue to implore persons who are interested in becoming foster parents to assist the State because many times children are left because of a death of [a parent] and they are alone and we have a responsibility as the State to take care of the children of the nation,” Minister Stephenson said.

Stephenson pointed to the two new employees provided for his Ministry in the Budget as proof of its intention “to improve the delivery of services to the children in alternative care by strengthening the capacity of the staff at the Child Development Division.”

Some 10 juvenile offenders would be provided rehabilitative care this year while the Ministry seeks to “facilitate their re-integration into society.”

A child care licensing policy for child protection residential facilities is also being eyed as a Ministry development goal. “This is very important because some of the agencies which provide care for children, some of the facilities that they have leaves a lot to be desired,” [sic] he told Parliament. “We have to ensure, Mr. Speaker, that when children are placed in facilities of this nature that they must be – either be better off from the homes that they are taken from to be placed in a residential facility. So these residential facilities, Mr. Speaker, has to come up to the task of what they are required to do.”[sic]

For this year Stephenson’s Ministry intends “to execute 5 community based awareness campaigns; develop a national youth policy; establish 5 youth development centres to promote skills development, behaviour modification, rehabilitation [and] entrepreneurship; enrol 350 youth in the YES programme by September this year [and] establish a youth volunteerism advocacy campaign to improve capacity building of youth based groups through the re-establishment of the National Youth Council.”

A youth mentorship programme would also be developed and deployed “those of us who can be role models for our young people… I say to all of us ‘find the time to see how best we can assist the children of our nation,” Stephenson’s address continued. A youth Parliament strategy is also on the Ministry’s agenda to be developed by year’s end.

And the 2020 social protection programme would “target 20% of the public assistance, unemployed population to participate in comprehensive treatment programs.” The Ministry would also seek “to deploy a disability support programme for four piloted communities, deploy an elderly support programme, restructure and implement the Home Help for the Elderly programme through 4 modalities – prevention, support, rehabilitation and development… at present there are close to 100 home help providers taking care of about 300 to 350 elderly persons in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

The Minister recognized that amongst the very “excellent” team there are some “tardy” home care providers while mentioning the unspecified Budget allocation “for the training of new home helpers.”

Amongst the other Ministerial intentions set out to be accomplished this year is “the legal review and drafting of the Public Assistance Act.” The current Act was passed in 1990 according to the Minister and allocated funds would aid in the review process.

The Cooperative Unit would roll out an industry internship initiative that would target “100 families focused on skills for employment and entrepreneurship.” The idea, according to the Minister, is to “use an industry initiative programme where we get [some of the persons on public assistance] some farming lands and maybe 8, 10 of them can form themselves into a small cooperative and they can work together… we believe that this is an initiative that can assist and reach some persons who come to the Ministry every day seeking assistance.”

The Gender Affairs Department would provide “support services to victims of gender based violence throughout the entire year, implement the positive reinforcement programme for 15 perpetuators of intimate partner violence as well as develop a pilot of women in leadership programme [and]a gender equality policy and action plan by December 2020,” Minister Stephenson also said.

jp.schwmon.vincy@gmail.com

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